BARCLAYS PREMIER LEAGUE
WEDNESDAY 21ST MARCH, 2012
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 1 (0) STOKE CITY 1 (0)
Van der Vaart, 90
Referee:- Mike Jones
Assistants:- Mr. D. Cann & Mr. C. Breakspear (not as per programme)
Fourth official:- Mr. A. Taylor
Spurs (4-4-1-1):- Friedel; Walker, Kaboul, King (Capt.) (sub Nelsen, 83), Assou-Ekotto; Kranjcar (sub Defoe, 46), Parker, Modric, Bale; Van der Vaart; Saha (sub Giovani, 73)
(Armband not handed over)
Subs not used:- Cudicini; Rose; Livermore, Sandro
Booked:- Van der Vaart
Stoke (4-3-2-1):- Begovic; Wilkinson, Shawcross, Huth, Wilson; Palacios (sub Whitehead, 57), Diao (sub Whelan, 26), Jerome (sub Delap, 83); Pennant, Walters; Crouch (Capt.)
Subs not used:- Sorensen; Upson; Shotton; Jones
Booked:- Palacios (foul on Kranjcar)
Spurs not clever enough
It was another one of those ultra frustrating nights at White Hart Lane and with Arsenal winning at Goodison (where we lost), therefore overtaking us, and Chelsea to face on Saturday, there is a fear that our season could fold before our eyes. If we beat Bolton next Tuesday in our re-arranged FA Cup quarter final, then it’s Chelsea again to face in the semi-final. Until Rafa van der Vaart headed in Gareth Bale’s superb added time cross, we were heading for defeat against a team that were well drilled, and organised and who scored with almost their only decent chance of the game. Every time, Spurs headed towards the Stoke goal, they faced a barrage of 9 or 10 players, and sadly lacked the guile or craft to find a way past such a solid wall.
The game was preceded with a fulsome tribute to Fabrice Muamba, who is hopefully on the road to a good recovery in the Bethnal Green chest hospital. All the players and officials wore white T shirts over their kit, with the message “Get Well soon Fabrice”, as they walked onto the pitch. There was then a generous one minute’s applause in support of the Bolton midfielder. Some Spurs fans also held aloft a banner with the same message for Muamba.
Spurs were still missing Lennon and Adebayor, and sorely missing these two players too. Kranjcar played on the right, but apart from two or three telling passes made little impact on the game. Van der Vaart played behind Saha, but the striker’s touch was not good on too many occasions when presented with the ball. Mind you, he was often facing two or three opponents when in possession, which seemed to be the case so often when Spurs did get possession, and they did get plenty of the ball too. Bale did predominantly play on the left, but there were still times when he seemed to go a-wandering.
Stoke included former Spurs Wilson Palacios and Peter Crouch. Crouch was captain for the night. Palacios lasted till the 42nd minute before getting a booking for a foul on Kranjcar and was substituted fairly early in the second half, to prevent that second yellow. Crouch leant on Ledley King as you would expect, but generally speaking, Stoke presented little threat to the Spurs defence, although Jerome had a couple of half chances in the early phases.
There was early promise that there might be a good battle between Bale and his marker Andy Wilkinson, and an early cross by Bale reached Van der Vaart, who touched the ball to Kranjcar, whose shot was deflected and had no strength anyway. A Modric ball for Saha was half cleared as far as Van der Vaart who had his shot blocked too. Modric picked up a mis-placed Crouch pass, and sent Bale on a run. Bale hit a powerful cross from deep on the left which was well held by Begovic. After 16 minutes, Bale took a run towards the right and fed the ball to Kranjcar. Kranjcar did well to get the ball to Van der Vaart, who tested the keeper with a shot to his left.
Kranjcar hit a good ball to Bale who now turned up on the right. He passed inside to Modric, whose shot from inside the right of the area passed wide across the goal. We thought that a Spurs goal must come. Crouch had a decent effort across the goalmouth at the other end. Spurs made a break after a Stoke free kick was collected by Friedel and thrown to Walker. Walker hit the ball to Bale, again on the right, and he fed Modric, who again shot wide across the far post.
Diao had to go off early due to an injury, but Spurs had a free kick outside the Stoke area, which Assou-Ekotto hit over the bar. Spurs fans wanted a handball when Parker now found Bale on the left, and he sent in his cross. Saha’s best effort came after 38 minutes from the right hand side of the box, and the goalkeeper had to push the shot over the bar. Spurs were winning plenty of corners, but unable to make any use of the dead ball situations.
Spurs started the second half brightly, but Bale was nowhere to be seen for a while. Van der Vaart threaded a ball to Defoe and Saha had a half chance cleared, then Bale hit a shot which was deflected for a corner. Younes Kaboul started to come forward down the right hand side more and supported Walker. Clever and determined play from the centre back led to cross which Begovic could not hold, and Defoe could not convert from very close to the bye-line. He did win a corner, but that was no good to Spurs of course. Walker hit a pass to Van der Vaart, who fired miles over the bar.
Walters did have a chance from quite close range after 62 minutes after a bit of head tennis in the area, but Friedel held the attempt. Bale had another shot deflected after another Modric pass. Walker won a free kick, but Van der Vaart hit that well over target too! After 73 minutes, Bale hit an excellent dipping shot that beat Begovic, but rebounded off the bar. Then came the sucker punch. Stoke won a free kick from deep on the left, swung in by Pennant, and after a touch or two in the area, Jerome got the final toe to the ball to score in front of his own fans.
Assou-Ekotto battled to find room to put in a low cross on the left, but Van der Vaart could get no power on his effort. Referee Mike Jones was letting a lot go, and this worked in favour of the physical Stoke side. I couldn’t help thinking that perhaps Spurs should be more physical, and cynical, because too often our opponents seem to get away with things. For example, Wilson cynically brought down Walker as he was on the advance, but the referee waved play-on. He seemed to have noted Wilson’s infringement, but took no action against him when there was a break in play.
Time was running out for Spurs, and Begovic firstly made a good save low to his left from Bale, but two minutes into the five minutes of added time, he could do nothing when Van der Vaart met Bale’s excellent cross with a powerful header. An equaliser was the best we could manage. It remains to be seen whether that one point will be vital by the end of the season.
Too many times, Spurs needed to attack with more speed of thought and action. Most of the time they gave Stoke time to build that barrier of red and white stripes in front of the goal. Stoke’s football is not pretty to watch, but it was effective enough tonight to frustrate Spurs.
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